BON and Red Cup Rebellion had such a good time talking prior to last year's epic pilgrimage to Oxford that there was no question we would link up for another pre-game chat before this weekend's return trip to Austin. Read on below as Ghost of Jay Cutler from RCR and I jockey for the coveted underdog position. (What, you were expecting swagger?)
Burnt Orange Nation: So... as you may have noticed, we're sort of stuck in Mack Brown's decline phase, just sort of hoping it ends sooner rather than later. However, one positive benefit to the mediocrity is that Texas fans - liberated from the constraints of fielding a successful football team - find themselves in a position that Ole Miss fans know well: it's all about winning the party.
As you know, there was a ton of enthusiasm and intrigue about visiting Oxford last year, and Texas fans raved about their trip when it was over. Now it's our turn to play hosts, and I'm curious how Ole Miss fans are feeling about their visit to Austin. After the opening night win over Vandy and a comfortable triumph over SE Missouri State, the team is 2-0, so I'd imagine spirits are high. Tell me about how Ole Miss fans are perceiving this road trip.
Red Cup Rebellion: This is a trip that Rebel fans have been looking forward to for years. As you mentioned, winning the party is a high priority among the Ole Miss faithful, and Austin is known as a place where such a victory can be easily accomplished. Austin, as I imagine it, is a lot like a bigger, more Southwestern Nashville. There's a good bar and restaurant scene along with some of the country's best venues to listen to live music. And hipsters. Lots of hipsters. Ole Miss fans do love traveling to the Music City every other year for our bouts against Vanderbilt - as evidenced by our sizable turnout for a Thursday night game in Nashville two weeks ago - so the enthusiasm for this trip should be similar but greatly amplified due to the uniqueness of playing Texas.
Add to that the now better-than-initially-anticipated chances for an Ole Miss win, and a lot of us are looking at this as a really special opportunity to make a statement while taking in such a great road trip. This is not to say that most of us are predicting an Ole Miss victory - far from it. It's just that, after last week, it seems much more likely now than, say, this time last year.
So if you don't mind me asking, what exactly went wrong last weekend? How did BYU rush as well as they did against the Longhorns?
Burnt Orange Nation: I do mind you asking, actually. We're a volleyball school now - let's keep talking about the party a little bit more. It's all we have left.
You know, I grew up in Austin and when I was getting ready to head to Vanderbilt for my freshman year of college, I heard that a lot - "Nashville is a lot like Austin!" - but when I got there I didn't really feel it. The two cities are similar-ish if you compare them at a sufficiently general level, but the cities are driven by very different engines. Austin is a young person's town, highly entrepreneurial, and very fluid/experimental. Nashville has its own set of virtues, but they're different. I enjoyed my year and a half in Nashville, but not enough to prevent me from transferring back to UT.
Will you be making the trip to Austin? What's your sense about how many Ole Miss fans are traveling for this game? Are y'all usually big travelers to road games that aren't within comfortable driving distance? Are you anticipating a larger than usual contingent for this game? Texas fans travel well in general, but last year's game at Oxford was insane.
Talk to me a little bit more about that, and then we can get to the football. I guess.
Red Cup Rebellion: Sadly, I myself won't be traveling to Austin. I live in Boston now and, on a graduate school student's budget, a weekend getaway to the Lone Star State just isn't in the cards. There will be some of the contributors to the Cup traveling that way, and I am fairly sure that they will be a part of an even larger Rebel contingent. [Speaking of, I should get them in touch with you and the Barking Carnival guys. No obligation to do anything on your part, but if some of you all are willing to say hello then I'm sure they'd be down.] Ole Miss fans do travel very well, but I base this mostly on our tendency to fill up venues for bowl games. Still, even as a regular season game, I don't imagine that the Texas date will scare off those with the desire and wherewithal to attend.
I wouldn't suggest that Ole Miss will have more fans there than, say, Texas A&M or Nebraska would in years past, but I can bet that the Rebel crowd will be comparable to that of a middling BigXII opponent, if not a bit bigger.
I think that, despite what some of our schools' respective fans may say, Ole Miss and Texas fans do identify well with each other, which is part of the reason that we have all looked forward to this series so much. There are also a lot of Texans at Ole Miss (something which a lot of the non-Texan Ole Miss undergrads have issues with - it's complicated) and Ole Miss alumni in Houston and the DFW Metroplex, so this game could be a homecoming of sorts for a lot of them.
And yeah, last year in Oxford was crazy. I had to wait two hours for a table at Old Taylor for because of all of the burnt orange-clad Longhorns fans who too wanted to eat the best fried catfish in America. Thankfully, Old Taylor has a BYOB policy that they do not mind their patrons participating in while they wait. I also didn't even bother going to any bars, because that would have just been unbearable. We like visitors in Oxford, but we're outgrowing our infrastructure as it is on our own, and we simply weren't ready for that kind of crowd (something which the Aggies soon learned as well).
Speaking of last season, the Longhorns beat the Rebels by 35. While you all may be a bit bummed about last week, you can't possibly be worrying too much about the Rebs, right? I myself am having a hard time predicting an Ole Miss win, for what it's worth.
Burnt Orange Nation: I know, I know: it's hard to imagine Texas as anything other than the Giant it should be, but as has been the case for an unhealthy amount of the last 40 years, the program is back in a slumber.
Am I worried about losing to the Rebels? You're kidding, right? You did see us make Taysom Hill look like the Heisman favorite last week, right? And that we're installing a new defensive coordinator this week who's been out of the game for the last several years? And who's nickname is GERG? And of whom Quandre Diggs said, direct quote here, "He's behind, so we have to continue to teach him"?
And then there's this: Hugh Freeze is a terrific offensive football coach. I suppose it's possible David Ash will be cleared to play and UT's offense will tee off on your defense like it did last year, but you guys had plenty of success scoring on our defense last year, and as embroiled as this Texas team is right now, I'm not sure I'd count on Texas winning another shootout.
Is there any reason to expect anything other than a shootout? Has this Ole Miss team under Freeze performed notably different at home or away?
Red Cup Rebellion: I think a shootout is definitely a reasonable expectation. Ole Miss did give up 35 points to Vanderbilt in the season opener, mind you. Granted, this isn't your momma's Vandy, as James Franklin has definitely got that program trending upward, but that's still a lot of points to concede. The Rebel defense is not getting the pass rush we had expected them to, and the secondary does not seem to have improved much off of last season. Simply put, we're giving up too many big plays.
The Ole Miss offense though has performed pretty well this season, particularly using a read option-based rushing attack (yes, I realize that is the exact opposite of what you all wanted to hear). The Rebs scored on their first five possessions against Southeast Missouri last week, to establish a 31-0 lead and give the second and third strings some game time...
That game ended in a 31-13 score. We simply couldn't score in the second half, with too many drives ending in turnovers and failed third down conversions. When Bo Wallace and the first string line isn't in the game, the offense simply dies. So, like last year, we have talent, but we do not have depth. We're a very flawed team in that regard.
As far as the home and away divide goes, I don't believe that Coach Freeze's teams perform all that much differently from venue to venue. Obviously there is such a thing as home field advantage, but it isn't nearly as pronounced as it has been in coaching administrations past. In fact, some of our worst games last year - Vanderbilt, Texas, Texas A&M - were at home.
With the unrest that there seems to be among the Longhorn faithful, will the road atmosphere in Austin suffer a bit? What should Ole Miss fans expect out of the game experience, and how much will that fluctuate based on what happens on the field?
Burnt Orange Nation: I'm actually curious myself to see what kind of Longhorns crowd we see on Saturday night. There are four different kinds of Longhorn crowds:
The Bloated Aristocrat Home Crowd - The fat and happy home crowd that shows up, socializes a bit, and wanders off for more drinks around halftime. Most commonly seen when Texas is good and the opponent sucks (see, e.g. Fla Atlantic 2008, Wyoming 2010).
The Loud & Proud Crowd - Every so often, the crowd is what you'd imagine a Texas crowd should be: a raucous, fired up, loud as hell energizer that provides a genuinely electric atmosphere (see, e.g. Missouri 2008, WVU 2012).
The Disinterested Crowd - Prevalent through much of the 80's and 90's, and towards the ends of the last three seasons, when the Texas program is mediocre or worse, it's reflected in the three-quarters-full stands (see, e.g. Baylor 2010).
The Angsty/Edgy Crowd - Somewhere in between is the Texas crowd that still gives a sh*t, but is running thin on patience. They'll rally behind the team if it shows up to play well, but are quick to turn angry if the cause looks lost (see, e.g. Iowa State 2010, Oklahoma State 2010, TCU 2012).
If we'd knocked out BYU last week, I would have predicted that Ole Miss fans would be treated to a Loud & Proud Crowd, but after the debacle in Provo, an Angsty/Edgy crowd is probably the most likely. If Texas plays well to start the game, the crowd will be fired up, but for every Texas mistake that reminds them of the trainwreck from last week, the folded arms, scowls, and exasperated groans will predominate. Lord help us if Ole Miss goes up by two or three scores in the first half. It'll get ugly, fast.
Alright, let me round out the cultural discussion with my recommendations for a visiting Ole Miss fan. I'll assume a 10 am arrival on Friday and afternoon departure on Sunday.
Lunch - No time to check in the hotel, as you're taking a cab straight from the airport to 11th street, one block east of I-35, to hop in what will already be a growing line at Franklin's BBQ. But you'll be fired up and entertaining yourself for a couple hours while you wait won't be a problem, giving you an opportunity to taste what some think is the best brisket in the entire country.
Afternoon/Dinner - Spend your late afternoon perusing the eclectic shops of South Congress until you're hungry for dinner, where you'll be in prime restaurant position. If your date is looking for something more refined, there's the exceptional Italian at Vespaio or wonderful outdoor patio at Perla's. If your group is dead set on trying some of the Austin food trucks, South Congress provides a diverse selection of choices all clumped together in one place. If your group wants something casual but isn't interested in a food truck, take ‘em to Home Slice for first-rate pizza.
Night - Take the opportunity on Friday night to catch some live music at one of Austin's many outstanding venues. On a Friday night in Austin, there's something for everyone, no matter your taste: hip hop fans can go to Emo's to catch the Geto Boys, indie rockers can hit up Stubbs to see Tegan and Sara, two-steppers can go to Donn's Depot for cheap beer and the ageless Donn & the Stationmasters, and those who want to dance can join me on the rooftop at Lanai to boogie to NuDisco beats from Houston's Josh Dupont. Like I said, though: there's something for everyone, so peruse the Chronicle's full listings to find whatever suits you.
Breakfast - Head east again for the amazing migas and biscuits at Cisco's, or grab some breakfast tacos at Juan In A Million. Or ask an Austinite for their favorite - this city does breakfast tacos right all over. It'll be hard to go wrong.
The Rest Of The Day - It's time to tailgate and go to the game. Y'all know what to do. Unlike in Oxford, where The Grove provides a centralized tailgating area, UT fans are sprawled out in every nook and cranny imaginable. Wear some comfortable shoes and spend a little time walking around meeting folks at different tailgates. You'll be welcomed with smiles and free booze and food wherever you go.
Saturday Night - Whether you're celebrating a big win or trying to forget a depressing loss, head downtown after the game, working your way east to west. See a real life hipster (and get a damn good drink) at East Side Showroom and then start heading west, quickly moving through the mess that is E 6th Street (Blind Pig is UT students' 6th Street bar of choice these days), before settling in to finish off your night at Dogwood or one of the other bars on West 6th, where all the guys drive Tahoes, all the girls are as judgmental as they are beautiful, and social status reigns supreme. I expect Ole Miss fans will fit right in.
You'll be tired and hungover, so take it east on Sunday. Grab yourself some tacos at Torchy's and spend an hour or two sunbathing on the lawn or taking a dip in the cold water of Barton Springs. Congratulations, you've experienced the Austin Life.
Red Cup Rebellion: I know that I'm going to regret not going to this game. Even if (when?) Ole Miss loses, missing out on a trip to such a great town for eating, drinking, and revelry is going to hurt. Who knows, maybe I can make it to SXSW or something in the future.
Back to the game itself, I think we've spent a bit too much time on what Texas fans should worry about, so I'll explain what exactly Ole Miss fans should look at to curb their enthusiasm. First, Texas beat Ole Miss by five touchdowns last year. Five. I worry that the more optimistic among us are are conveniently overlooking that. Ole Miss returns a lot from last year, as does Texas, so it's not unreasonable to think that some of the issues that plagued the Rebs then could return.
There are also injury concerns. Wideout Vincent Sanders is clear to play after recovering from a shoulder surgery, but we can't be certain he will be 100%. The same can be said for defensive tackle Issac Gross and cornerback Senquez Golson, both of whom do not appear to be fully healthy with respective groin and hamstring injuries. The latter is especially troubling, because with Charles Sawyer nursing a bum shoulder (and suffering the consequences of a DUI) and Nick Brassell declared academically ineligible, the Rebels are paper thin at cornerback. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche won't play either, as he's recovering from a meniscus tear.
On offense, the banged and battered Rebel offensive line will likely shuffle around a good bit, as starting right guard Aaron Morris tore his ACL against Vanderbilt. Look for Laremy Tunsil, Austin Golson, Pierce Burton, and Emmanuel McCray to all shuffle about at all of the guard and tackle spots. I can't help but worry that we are still looking for our identity up front, despite it being the third week of the season. Running back Itavius Mathers looked alright against SEMO last week, but is still reportedly tender from an ankle sprain he suffered in fall drills.
Then there's the factor of the game being on the road in a 100,000 seat venue, the expectations heaped on a young team after cracking the top-25 for the first time in a few years, and the predictions of a Rebel win from Ole Miss fans and national media pundits alike, and this feels to me like we're being set up for a truly memorable "We Are Ole Miss" moment. (Ever wonder why Ole Miss fans will say "WAOM" in SB Nation comments threads? That's why, because when things seem to go our way, we have to remind ourselves that "we are Ole Miss, and good things just don't happen to us.")
I want to believe though, Peter. I really do.
Burnt Orange Nation: Good things happen to offenses that face our defense, that's for sure. Plus, Daje Johnson (our home threat, a la Marquise Goodwin from last year's game) is out and your defense gets to face Case "Happy Feet" McCoy instead of David Ash, who just obliterated the Rebels in Oxford last year.
Is this Ole Miss defense improved from a year ago? McCoy can be an effective thrower on underneath stuff, but the deep threat just disappears when he's under center. Do you expect Ole Miss to load up the box to try to stop the run and make McCoy prove he can beat them with his arm?
Red Cup Rebellion: I'm not really sure what to expect out of the Ole Miss defense. They have been rather underwhelming through two games, but also have not shown much of anything outside of a base. Against Vanderbilt, the gameplan was to contain Austyn Carta-Samuels and force him to beat us with his arm, something he damn near did. Against SEMO, we seemingly didn't blitz at all and, after the second quarters, had a lot of second and third string guys on the field. Part of me thinks the gameplan there was to not give Texas much game tape to prepare for.
So perhaps they've improved from last year. With them returning the players they did and adding five star recruits to that mix, it stands to reason that they should, but I just don't think I'm yet convinced that they have.
I'm not sure that forcing McCoy to throw is all that great of a strategy. I don't trust the Rebel secondary in man coverage, and think that there could be some real talent mismatches that the Texas wideouts could exploit. Maybe I'm just dogging these defensive backs a little bit, but outside of sound tackling ability they haven't shown much about which an Ole Miss fan could be optimistic.
I think the strategy should be to blitz early and often and force McCoy to make mistakes. This defense may be inconsistent, young, and a bit undersized, but they are certainly opportunistic. In that sense, they're very much a feast-or-famine type of defense. If they can create more big plays for themselves than they give up to Texas, then they'll put the Rebs in a good position to win.
Burnt Orange Nation: Fair enough. All that's left now is to play the game. Oh, and make our predictions.
This is a tough one to gauge, given all the uncertainty on the Texas side of things right now. On the one hand, I imagine this team will have some of that wounded animal mentality. Particularly if they get off to a solid start, it's easy to imagine them fighting hard to find a way to win. Ont the other (probably bigger) hand, we're without our two most important offensive players and our defensive players are, uh, coaching their defensive coordinator, trying to bring him up to speed in just a few days time. Worse, said defensive players have no demonstrated ability to play quality defense, so it's anyone's guess what kind of instruction they're providing.
Greg Robinson: "Okay, so the call is for the end to crash inside on the dive option. What did he have the playside linebacker do on this play?"
Quandre Diggs: "Same thing."
Greg Robinson: "Same thing?" Looks to another player. "No. Not the same thing. Right?"
Steve Edmond: "Most definitely. Same thing."
Greg Robinson: Looking at player after player, hoping for a different answer. "You're serious, aren't you. We're f*cked."
There are too many intangible variables in play in this game to touch the line with an actual bet, but what's a Q&A without a chance to make yourself look like a fool? I don't know and don't want to find out, so I suppose I'll go on record forecasting a fairly tight, low-ish scoring game through the first half, but for my money Hugh Freeze will be the best football coach on either sideline on Saturday, and I expect his offensive competency eventually to find a way to exploit our defensive impotence, leading to a strong second half for the Rebels. Ole Miss wins it, 34-23.
Red Cup Rebellion: I think both of us are trying to talk ourselves out of any sort of optimism. For me, I see a team that had 66 points scored on it by these same Longhorns a year ago. That's a simplistic argument, I know, but I can't shake it.
I also see a team whose offensive line is battling with injuries, whose cornerbacks aren't at all proven, whose coaches are largely inexperienced, and whose quarterback is terribly mistake prone.
There's also the idea that we should somehow lose this game in spite of it being seemingly teed up for us. Ole Miss has been good at falling short of expectations on a big stage for decades now. All of this is making me feel that this is a back-and-forth affair that comes down to a big Rebel mistake or two in the fourth quarter. Texas wins, 35-31.